Saturday, August 27, 2011

Summer Ebbs

We have been busy. Another excuse (reason?) for not keeping up our blog schedule is that we had a computer problem.  We had to go to town for a week and use the WiFi (Wee Fee in Italiano) at a local bar. Very noisy in 
August.  Ah, but August is on the wane, and with it, most of the hazy, crazy days that make one want a vacation from all the vacationers. We have house guests due in a few days and are looking forward to seeing them--but after they leave, we hope we will be in a nice quiet, cool place where going to the gym sounds reasonable again.

We will be returning to Italian language school soon and I know our teacher will be asking us what we did during our summer vacation. Here is my list that I will have to mentally convert to Italian:

  • Went to the beach and snorkeled alot--found a peaceful beach for August in Cetraro. 
  • Tried and partly failed to include more night-life. We are still morning people.
  • Went to Sorrento and environs
  • Met a lot of new people and got to know people from last year better.
  • Doug started passing his driver's test computer simulations (he has to take it in Italian).
  • Di started understanding Italian films.
  • Watched a whole lot of fires.
  • Heard a whole lot of fireworks.
  • Ate less because of the heat.
We didn't study Italian the way we planned, but we did make more efforts to talk and listen to people and films. Studying is a winter thing anyway eh?! All in all, it was a blur.... We do remember those two cute girls playing in the sunset at Lido Paradiso. The adults were dancing under a pergola at the same time.

Friday, August 12, 2011

We're Burning Up!

The view from our terrace at midnight
Just 1/2 mile from our house, the crackling noise of close-by fire made for a restless night of sleep. This whole week has been filled with fire and fire aircraft.  This fire burned all Wednesday night pushed by strong winds. Other fires burned on the road to Scalea and up into the hills.  

I used to love to fly in or work around aircraft related to wildfires in America. I figured I would miss that part of my job but lo and behold, there is more than enough fire aviation around me here to keep busy (with a camera anyway). Someday when my Italian is better I’ll look into begging a ride on a Canadair tanker with the fire service, Protezione Civile:
Vince hated the planes flying so low over the house

Vince the dog has become neurotic about fireworks and low flying aircraft in his old age– just all of a sudden, so for four days he shook and panted and followed us around till we were all crazy. I suspect at least one plane will return today for further mop-up since they don’t use many ground crews.
It looked a bit less scary at daybreak

Monday afternoon I saw a fire was burning on both sides of the highway about ½ mile away. This is just below a small park-like stand of eucalyptus and pine trees and I figured that someone had started another fire to promote mushroom growth. Earlier the same day I watched a small fire east of here started along a road probably by a cigarette. Remember that 99% of the fires in Calabria are human caused. Many people smoke and many of those are careless. The bulk of fires (I’m told by locals) are arson.  They are fires started by rural folks to promote mushrooms or to improve grazing for the goats and sheep. American Indians did the same thing, but burning someone else’s land is not nice these days.
Seldom does anyone takes ground action because apparently they have no decent equipment or training.  Here, they wait for the air tankers who perform the role of incident commander and initial attack force. They do it all. Two Canadair tankers were the first to arrive at 1800 and I walked up above the cemetery to watch. The fire was creeping downhill toward the village. We have very light, flashy fuels everywhere which means the pine trees and even many eucalyptus remain alive while brush and grass burns. There is no intense concentrated heat from these fires overall.  
The tanker pilots are extremely good and gutsy as witnessed by their proximity to powerlines, houses and the ground.

This is the first time I’ve seen Air Tractor planes in action.   In the States, these are called Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATS), basically a turbocharged crop duster configured for fire fighting. These have pontoons to land in the sea like the Canadairs. The website says they can gather 800 gallons in 30 seconds, but I think they have to land, stop and drop a tube into the water since they sit a ways above the water, and their turnaround time was about 20 minutes compared to 7 min for the larger planes. Anyone know how they fill? 
Lots of low level flying.  That close to the tankers, I discovered a cool thing. 

Fluffy stuff was in the air after a water drop and I determined it was foam from sea water. I think the agitation of sucking up the water must create the foam that floats down after the water. A little landed on my arm so I could taste it.  

US Forest Service aviation managers would not like helicopters carrying water buckets right over our terrace in town, nor maybe the tankers at 2-300 feet over homes and downtown Scalea. 

The same Americans would likely frown on this separation between a climbing helicopter and a descending air tanker.  Shoot, there must have been at least 200 meters – no sweat for Italian pilots!! I wish I could listen to the chatter between the aircraft when there were 4 tankers and a helicopter running around together. 
On Tuesday they returned at 0600 and worked fires until 1930 again. A full day of flying. The planes worked till dark.  A single Canadair returned Wednesday to mop things up. Total burned area I estimate at 1,500 acres. 

Wednesday night mother nature took over and switched the winds to the north and increased them to 20 mpg with gusts to 35. This pushed all the existing fires back downhill and chaos was made overnight. The big fire reached the edge of Scalea 3 miles away and stopped around the Bellavista Restaurant if you know where that is.  2000 more acres. The suspected cigarette fire mentioned about was never dealt with, so it took off and damaged about 2000 acres as well.  There were 4 other fires in sight.
Fortunately these fires did minimal property damage. In a recon Thursday morning I only found 6 shipping containers (full of merchandise) that were burning in our business park. This added another day of flying for the Canadairs. I wish I could hear the comments from the first pilots that arrived to find a basic war zone in the Lao River basin – “OMG, where do we start?”

Vince and I need a break. Di pulled me in Thursday PM and closed the shutters against the ashes that were coming into the house.  Yes, there is a plane here this morning, but maybe they can finish early and give us back some peace and a sane dog. But hey, this is part of life in Southern Italy.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Crowds, Critters, and Construction

An Italian bumble-bee struggles with a broken wing on our Terrazzo--our Agosto hideout
It's Agosto and most of our summer visitors will be fleeing the Italian crowds soon. The population of Scalea truly triples with vacationing Italians returning to their holiday apartments. We are planning to photograph the teeming night-life in Scalea before the month ends--but normally we quietly avoid crowds and go to select events in our village. Even here, things can be hopping until 1:00 AM on a week night. How do we avoid the crowds? Some tips for all of you who may be planning to tour the Calabrian coasts in the high season:

  • Get up early. By 9:30, it's already too late in the stores. (Italians stay out late and tend to not get up early unless they have to).
  • If you want to be at a beach in relative peace, go where there are no big hotels within walking distance of your beach, and show up when the Italians leave for lunch and a nap (1-4 PM). (Although we arrive early to get a good spot, and just enjoy the time between 1-4).
  • Drive back roads and find routes around the main corsos.
  • Arrive for lunch right at 12:30 or 1 and beat the crunch at 1:30.
  • Find places to eat on the back streets. We find few people eating out for lunch this year (economy?) and more going out at night. If you get to a restaurant at 8:00 you beat the main gang that arrives to eat dinner at 9:00. 
It's more fun (now and then) to be with the tourist crowds here because at least they are Italians, but because they are Italian, the driving is absolutely nuts and supermarkets are crazy.
Doug's been busy with his long lens on the terrace. We have a pair of lizards who live there. (Liz and Zard). Pictured below is Zard. These critters are all over Calabria and are so very cute! The bumble bees (first picture) here look at first glance like giant flies. Not as cute--although they do have a bluish glaze on their wings. We also have hummingbird moths that are smaller than the ones in Oregon. Butterflies also look for a drink here--mostly swallow-tail relatives.

Zard was kind enough to pose long enough for Doug to change to a long lens.

The swifts are gone for the season, but the dove family is still looking for accomodations for a third brood. We tolerated the first two but Doug came up with the idea of blocking their efforts with a big ugly rock that I changed into a little lamb.

This critter is an Ibis from Egypt but I keep thinking a bird landed on the table.

The neighbor's house is coming along very nicely! I have to say that I like real terra cotta roof tiles better than these modern look-alikes but you can't beat those hefty ceiling beams!


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